I really did my research. I looked at several other MP3 players on the market, read reviews and really agonised over my choice.The X-Fi was one of the first players I looked at and read reviews on. The reviews by and large were positive and it was becoming a clear choice for me initially, until it became obvious that the software provided with it was for Windows only. The player then was beginning to sound very Windows centric, which worried me, being a Mac and Linux user. I then dabbled with the notion of getting an iPod. Despite being a Mac fan, I have always had reservations about getting an iPod. The price tag being the first turn off. Then the stories I’ve heard of poor battery life, cracked screens, poor sound quality, etc, really didn’t have me enthused over the choice. Especially when even iPod FANS were recommending buying replacement headphones for a nano that at base price was £100. To not be provided with high quality headphones on something with such a price tag sounded criminal to me!
Another thing that put me off buying an iPod was expandability. Once you choose the iPod you want, there’s no expansion slot, you are stuck with that fixed size of space. I then in light of that, considered the Classic iPod. With 120GB of space, I’d be able to put my WHOLE iTunes library on it and STILL have loads of room to spare. And although my player was being purchased not for it’s portability to be taken outdoors, I was worried about the Classics potential fragility. Especially given the 120GB of space comes in the form of an actual hard drive rather than flash memory.
I still felt myself drawn to the X-Fi. The final element that swayed it for me was a company selling the 16GB version of the X-Fi for £106 – compared to it’s RRP of £140. It was the clincher.
I’m glad I jumped at it! I’ve had the player for a week now, and it has been fab!The positives: Despite being provided with Windows software and having a program called “Creative Centrale” that only runs on a Windows machine, my Mac can see it. I use a program called XNJB which gives you an MTP user interface to upload/download MP3’s with relative ease. It’s not the MOST compatible way to do it, but if, like me you are a Mac user and were reticent to buy Zen products due to incompatibility, rest assured. The storage space. Mine is the 16GB version, but there is also a 32GB version as well. There is an 8GB version on the market too, but it doesn’t have the Wireless LAN feature and has (as far as I am aware) inferior quality headphones. Along with the fixed storage it has an SD memory expansion slot, which means you can expand the memory by anything from minimal mega-bites right up to 32GB – and in HC format too. Plenty of room for expansion! Video playback is good and high quality. So far I’ve only done a little playback via an SD card. I haven’t put any video on the fixed storage of the player. But from what I’ve played from SD, the video has smooth and fluid playback and is quite good to view despite it being on a 2 inch screen. The resolution is sharp and certainly makes video watchable. The sound quality is excellent. And of course, the better bit rate of MP3, the better quality of sound. I try as much as possible, to have an absolute MINIMUM bit rate for my MP3’s be to 192kbps. The headphones are superior quality to my previous Creative headphones which were of good quality themselves. No need to folk out for replacement headphones with THIS player (sorry Apple!). Be warned, this only applies to the 16 and 32GB versions though, from what I’ve read on other reviews, the 8GB version comes with a different set of headphones and I can’t comment on those. Battery life. I’ve had the player just over a week now and I haven’t flatten the battery. This is due mostly from me still loading songs on the machine and it being charged via the USB port when linked to the Mac. Battery life for MP3 playback through the headphones is quoted as being 25 hours. Through the built-in speaker on the unit, 15 hours, and for video playback, 5 hours. I would expect that headphone MP3 playback would see you get pretty close to the battery life quoted. The most I’ve used it for in one period was about 3 hours and it came nowhere NEAR depleting the battery life. Wireless LAN feature. As a Mac user, I didn’t think the Wireless feature was going to be of ANY use to me at all. But I have signed up to a chat account and have Yahoo on. I haven’t chatted to anyone yet, but could imagine the “keyboard” interface could be problematic. The other aspect to the Wireless is the Creative Media Centre. It’s not FULLY open to me as a Mac user, but it does let me listen to various podcasts, including, bizarrely, some Australian content like the Kyle and Jackie O show and some Triple J stuff.
The Negatives:Yes, there are some, albeit minimal (to me anyway)… AAC playback. It WILL play AAC’s as stated, but I find for me it only recognises the tracks ID3 tags when loaded onto an SD card. If I load AAC’s directly onto the player, the ID3 tags don’t show properly and the songs get loaded but unidentified and all get bundled into an album by “Unknown artist” under “Unknown album”. This probably is only a Mac/Linux users problem as us users cannot access the “Creative Centrale”. Video conversions needed for playback. So far, from what I can tell, it will only play “.avi” format video for me. And you need to convert video to 320 x 240 resolution. That isn’t so much the pain. One of the sell points for me was the larger range of video formats the X-Fi was meant to take compared to the regular Zen. The X-Fi feature. This was the BIG feature, the “muts nuts” aspect of this player. I find it a bit like a chocolate fireplace, IE: quite useless. Unless you have appalling quality MP3’s (and quite frankly, why would you?), this feature will actually LESSEN the quality of your MP3’s. If you upload MP3’s of a minimum of 160kbps or higher, I seriously doubt you’d ever need to switch the X-Fi feature on. The USB cable supplied is frankly an absurd size. It’s a 2 inch long cable!! I had to sit it behind my Mac and couldn’t confirm downloads and that the thing was charging unless I looked at the XNJB software. Or got up out of my computer chair and walked around to the back of the Mac. I wanted to have the unit in front of me. We had an existing cable that is 36 inches long. Well ample enough to have the X-Fi in front of me. It didn’t need to be a 36 inch cable, but why the hell make it only a 2 inch one?! I really think the cable should be at least 10 inches long. On this topic, the fact that you have to fork out extra money for a mains adapter charger is a little rich. But Creative aren’t the only ones. For iPods come with no mains adapter either. Honestly. What is it with these companies. They make systems with in-built battery packs. You’d think that they could at least provide an alternative to only being able to charge the gadget via a USB port. Okay, they provide the mains adapters, but at extra cost. Why not just include them in the kit and charge a slightly higher price? I don’t understand why they think people wouldn’t want a mains adapter as standard? For a person with my nails (I bite them), I find it hard to insert an SD card as it takes an effort to push the card into the slot fully, and takes nails, or having a small, thin gadget to hand (say, the back of another SD card, or a pen, or similar, or even someone with nails – for me it’s my partner). ONLY IN REFERENCE TO MAC/LINUX USERS:- The organiser. Obviously it needs to “sync” with your PC, erm, which I haven’t got. This renders the organiser for Mac/Linux users useless. Not that I’m really bothered by that myself. I’ve got a mobile phone after all. I think that’s about all really. I’d give it 4.5 stars out of 5. It’s not 100% perfect, but it is as near enough to perfection as I think you could get. It’s in the high 90’s for me! I’m really, really pleased with it.